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Streptococcus agalactiae is a very common strain of bacteria that is completely harmless to most healthy people. Colonies of the bacteria can live within the digestive, reproductive, and urinary tracts without causing any negative health problems. In newborn babies and adults with weakened immune systems, however, Streptococcus agalactiae can become a source of severe, potentially life-threatening infections. The bacterium can cause serious damage to the lungs, brain, and heart if it is not recognized and treated right away. Intravenous (IV) antibiotics are usually effective at killing Streptococcus agalactiae colonies and promoting fast recovery.
Newborns are at an especially high risk of Streptococcus agalactiae infections because their immune systems are not yet strong enough to fight off pathogens. Pregnant mothers who carry the bacteria in their lower reproductive tracts can pass on infections to their babies as they are delivered. Cancer patients who receive immune system-suppressing chemotherapy and people who have chronic diseases such as HIV can also experience active infections.
The most common initial symptoms of a Streptococcus agalactiae infection in babies include fatigue, irritability, poor appetite, and fever. A persistent cough and shortness of breath may arise if the lungs and heart are involved. If the bacterium reaches the brain, it can cause seizures and set the stage for developmental disorders in the future. Adult patients may experience fevers, weakness, skin rashes, and urinary tract infections.
A simple blood test can confirm or rule out the presence of Streptococcus agalactiae in patients who exhibit symptoms. Physical exams and diagnostic imaging scans are useful in determining which organs are involved and to what extent. If a doctor suspects a brain infection, he or she may decide to collect a sample of fluid from the spinal cord to check in laboratory testing.
Most cases of Streptococcus agalactiae infection can be treated if they are discovered early. IV penicillin or similar antibiotics are able to stop the spread of infection and kill existing pathogens in the bloodstream. Newborns and adult patients may need to be hospitalized during treatment to ensure they receive sufficient fluids and supportive care for lingering symptoms. If the lungs, brain, or heart are involved, patients may require oxygen therapy and constant vital monitoring. Most patients who receive timely treatment are able to recover in less than one month.
Advancements in preventive medicine and testing techniques are helping to reduce the frequency of new Streptococcus agalactiae infections. Pregnant women are usually screened for bacterial colonies before they give birth. Antibiotics given before and during labor can lessen the chances of passing on an infection to an infant as well.